Selling Grandma’s Vintage Fur


Dear Internet, you have asked me a LOT about how to sell a vintage fur coat. Because I love you and want to help you out, here is a follow up to my piece on Grandma’s Vintage Fur. This is for everyone who wants to sell their vintage fur coat, stole, or other item. I’m also posting public answers to some of the more interesting questions that have come my way. This was updated in February 2023!

The Step By Step Guide to Selling Your Vintage Fur[Read more]


On Hardly Ever Drinking Alcohol

Has anyone else noticed that Drynuary is now followed by the FebFast, giving us two potential months of abstaining from alcohol? The Guardian had a stab at Drynuary here. Myself, I’m going to discuss what it’s like to not drink alcohol all year ’round.

Women's temperance: pretty badass in 1874.

Women’s temperance: pretty badass in 1874.

For all practical purposes, I’m a nondrinker. I have an alcoholic drink an average of every 3 – 4 years, so rarely that I can remember each individual occasion – a wedding toast, or a friend asking me to try something incredibly special. I don’t mind, because I don’t have a medical or addiction-history reason to not drink alcohol – I just don’t like it much, so I choose not to, as a rule. My choice puts me in the curious company of other liquor abstainers and minimalists: temperance-movement suffragettes, evangelical teetotalers, Mormons, Muslims, “health nuts”, and straight-edge punks. (New Zealand, it turns out, narrowly dodged alcohol Prohibition in 1911!)

Like most nondrinkers, I don’t tend to bring it up, because not drinking leads to social weirdness in most Western societies. In one memorable conversation at my first job, I was told that I wouldn’t get far in publishing because I didn’t drink (sure enough, I work in tech today). I was brought up in the USA and lived there until I was 28, and not drinking is relatively common there, 1 in 3 – 4 people, whereas in New Zealand, only 2 out of  10 are nondrinkers. Dating as a non-drinker in New Zealand has been particularly fraught. “If I can’t get you drunk,” said one swain, “how am I ever going to get you into bed?” A statement to make everyone go teetotal right there.

Seeing my friends enjoy wine and cocktails and whiskey, I know I am outside their shared connisseurship of bitter and subtle flavors. Once, I asked a dear friend who is also a globetrotting gourmet, “Do I seem naive, childish, because I don’t drink?” After a tense moment, the confession came: “Yes.” Well, then, so be it.

Courtesy of Lombro Bulmbha via Creative Commons.

Somebody’s got to light that absinthe.

There are a lot of pluses to being a nondrinker. I’m welcome at wild parties – someone has to drive home. Recently, I was the one torching absinthe sugar cubes for other guests with my steady hands. I am also a reliable caberet emcee. One of the joys of burlesque and cabaret for me is that it can be a wicked evening activity without boring alcohol as a focus.

I may seem naive and childish, but so does my complexion. My partner, a light and occasional drinker, has also been touched lightly by time – someone accused me of cradle-snatching him, when he’s 8 years older than I am. The Drinking Mirror App shows what drinking alcohol does to your skin.

ShoesorboozeAlso? The financial benefits of being a non-drinker are insane. Forget the Latte Factor: others have also noted that not drinking alcohol suddenly boosts their budget. I remember being shocked into silence the first time I heard that someone had racked up a $150 bar tab. My house, which I own, I saved up for between the ages of 30 and 35 – it’s the house that No Bar Tabs built. Now that I’m there, nothing ever stops me from driving home to its slightly distant location.

Then there are the aspects that aren’t pros or cons, they just are. Yes, I have fun, but…my standards are different. Some parties in New Zealand are hosted in raw spaces to avoid damage to houses due to enthused drinkers. But I am swiftly bored hanging out in somebody’s garage with a bag of potato chips and drunk people.  Food has to be good – company has to be interesting – I admit, I’ll get off the dance floor sooner – I’m going to admire every detail of your outfit. I remember what I did and said, and what everyone else did, too.

And life has rolled on. Nondrinking hasn’t barred me from experiences or misfortunes. As a nondrinker, I have ridden pillion on a motorcycle at 5 AM through the last of lurid old Times Square, modeled, partied in the Meatpacking District in New York, visited ten countries, been mugged, been divorced, gone urban spelunking, enjoyed world-class cuisine, danced at big band Motown and radical feminist punk concerts, flirted badly, flirted with shocking success, and celebrated getting engaged again.

This month, I support fellow Wellington redheads raising money for the FebFast – please consider donating to help young New Zealanders learn how to enjoy alcohol responsibly.

For a nondrinker’s night out in Wellington with some beverage variety, I happily recommend the delicious virgin drinks at The Library. And at the world-famous Matterhorn, just ask the bartender and they will make virgin versions of their amazing cocktails.

My life as a nondrinker.

In conclusion: this is my life as a nondrinker. From the irresistible Tumblr Babies Covered In Money.


How’d That Work Out For Me? 2013 In Review

Burlesque – There isn’t much dialogue about people doing less burlesque. Rising stars scream as they enter the atmosphere, then they fall away into ashes with a whisper. I’ve seen burlesque starlets change tack because of children, careers, shifting into modeling, and simply the sense of having achieved their burlesque goals. I did less than last year and that’s OK, what with a major project at work, travel, and other things. Speaking of which…

Engaged – Starry-eyed canoodling and going around saying “It does feel different and it’s really nice”- most excellent. People’s hunger for wedding planning – when the wedding isn’t for at least 2.5 years, maybe 3 – somewhat baffling? But it seems necessary for the psychological satisfaction of others? I’ll just handle this carefully, shall I?

Travel – Both my partner and I spent significant amounts of the year in transit – he had an academic fellowship 3 hours away until July, and I was in the US for May in its near entirety. He had a great experience and has co-authored a paper, but dealing with the work and change took lots of energy from both of us. My trip was fabulous, but it also tore my heart up, in several different ways. Mom…Philly…the friends I have had for the longest time…it all came together when, after visiting the Big Blue Marble bookstore, I sat at a train station in the rain and read Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother, shedding tears until my SEPTA ride appeared. And then there was BMC reunion, and visiting an old friend in LA. Visiting Oamaru in November was an unadulterated series of gentle pleasures, in contrast.

With 2013’s experiences laying a foundation, and sniffing the wind for overall trends in society – I feel that we are finally emerging from the shock of 9/11 to start the future – next year is going to have a lot more changes. I’m not sure exactly what. Which is exciting and frightening.

Best non-fashion $100 I spent: Joining Intervac, an international home swap site. I was offered swaps outside Edinburgh, Scotland; Stockholm, Sweden; and Bristol in the UK, and I received hospitality in Philadelphia and gave more hospitality to some visiting Scots. I joined them because they had a good NZ and US presence – there are other sites that focus more on Europe or Australia.

To amuse you, here are the top five best fashion items I spent money on this past year:

And here are my top five fashion fails:

  • Chartreuse pencil skirt. It’s marvelous. Such a wonderful pear-green color and a luscious ponte fabric. It just doesn’t work on me, no matter what I do.
  • I keep meaning to buy fresh tights and some knee-highs, and not doing it.
  • There was a sizing issue with a Trashy Diva dress. Grumble. Kudos to Trashy Diva for including the exchanged item shipping with Round II of the dress.
  • My attempts to be one of those people who switch handbags are awkward at best and I should stick with Handbag Prime.
  • I had an award to present at a ceremony in front of all of my professional colleagues. The afternoon of the ceremony, one professional hairdresser (not my usual one) made such a hash of trying to give me retro curls that I had to go to another professional hairdresser for an updo as a fix. The updo was OK, but the photos from the event -which will live forever online – show that it’s not my best look.

 What’s happening next year?

  • More Burlesque – The Rainbow Troupe will be back at Out in the Square on January 18th, and I am emceeing a very special Kiwiana Caburlesque show at The Fringe Bar in early February. It’s going to be sweet as!
  • Fragrance Event! – For Wellington perfumistas, Ever So Scrumptious is going to arrange a shopping morning and a perfume-and-accessories swap afternoon. Stay tuned for more details and please get in touch if you are interested.
  • Aussie Aussie Aussie – Looks like I’ll be in Australia twice next year.
  • More Blogging – Is blogging dead? That’s not what my site analytics say! So more burblings here, and I will happily and patiently keep answering vintage fur questions, which keep coming in. Now that people are sorting out what Pinterest and Instagram and Tumblr are finally for, I will re-examine them, too.

Kia kaha and have a beautiful new year everyone! I’m going to go paint my toenails gold in the sun.


Rings to Last

My partner and I just got engaged, and …this means a lot of things! Ever So Scrumptious isn’t going to morph into a wedding blog. But some related posts will crop up from time to time. The first one to come out of our engagement experience is that our different cultures, backgrounds, and those of our friends made engagement ring negotiation thought-provoking indeed.

It gets sticky because engagement rings are where love, money, and expectations collide. Some of my friends dislike engagement rings, or dislike diamonds (for sociopolitical reasons), or expect that Americans are all mercenary about going for big expensive rings. Others have rings on every finger, or treasure a classic diamond. As a result, I haven’t tied myself up in so many anxious knots about a post since I first started this blog…even though, having worked at a jeweler, I have some Ideas about choosing rings.

Another dame who has an engagement ring for her fiancé and herself says, wisely, “I love hearing about other people’s choices, but I hate that we live in a society where women are screwed for both liking and not liking rings.” Yes! This!

So, this post is for those of us who like rings, and jewelry, and the idea of special rings and jewelry to symbolize relationship commitment. At the same time, we chafe at showing off, overspending, and not considering the environment and human rights when choosing said jewelry.

We chose: rings for everyone!

My partner and I formalized our engagement by exchanging rings. Yes, we both have an engagement ring. Because of the jewelry work involved, getting from No Ring to Two Rings did eliminate the surprise that some people expect from an engagement. But when Ring Day came, we woke up as excited as kids on Christmas – a delicious feeling that neither of us had expected. We made a pilgrimage to the springtime Wellington Botanical Garden to exchange rings with each other. My partner picked the spot – an alley of blooming magnolia trees.


Mine is an antique Victorian sapphire and diamond ring, a family heirloom. His has a chrome tourmaline, bezel-set in a hand-forged gold ring.

Rings and Money and Convention

Engagement rings with center stones are a cultural construct, adopted at varying levels in the USA, New Zealand, and Australia – a carry-over from our parent country, Britain. In most of the rest of Europe, engagement rings are understated bands, often worn by both halves of a couple. Engagement ring marketers are working hard in Asia, but many Asian cultures focus more on other types of engagement and wedding gifts – this forum thread is fascinating. The engagement ring “push” or culture has become stronger in New Zealand in the past 20 years. I’ve known several couples who got rings after long-term anniversaries, and several more where there is no engagement ring, or the engagement ring is very understated, European-style.

Rings are often more expensive than bracelets, when bracelets, curiously, involve just as much work and more material. But the value of “The Ring” is inflated in our minds – here’s a deep discussion about engagement rings and value metrics. One woman told her partner that a good engagement ring budget was what he would spend on a gaming system, saying, “You are happy to spend X on yourself, I would like it if you could spend X on me, too.”

There is a difference between engagement rings that are cold rhodium-plated signifiers of the Wedding Industrial Complex versus an ethically made, daily celebration of love. And that difference is an independent jeweler.  The people who take years to become independent manufacturing jewelers are creative free spirits or geology-engineering-artist types. And they want to adorn you with rings that break the mold and make you happy every day.

Choosing a Ring That Will Last

“A diamond is forever,” said the classic advertisement – setting up the weighty expectation that personally significant rings are indeed forever. In real life people get their rings repaired, choose to upgrade them (often for major anniversaries), and have to deal with losing rings. Sometimes they even pass rings on to the next generation long before they die. How can you pick a ring that will last?

  • The sturdiest ring settings are bezel settings or solid 4-6 prong settings, preferably with the stone set lower/closer to the finger. Bezel settings are favorites of health professionals and others who work with their hands.
  • Keep your metals old school: yellow or rose gold, platinum. White gold is an alloy and is often plated with rhodium. Unplated white gold often has warm or steely tones. Which I, personally, like! But if you see shiny perfect white gold, it’s rhodium plated, and you can expect to replate it at some point.
  • Get a ring that can be resized easily. That means avoiding detailing or diamonds going all the way around the band. Mokume gane metal bands are also challenging to resize. Rings with complicated bands may be resizable, but you should go back to the jeweler who created them to get this done.
  • Avoid melee/pave settings, with lots of little diamonds, for everyday wear. These settings are everywhere now – DeBeers created the “right hand ring” campaign to sell a flood of smaller diamonds, and that’s probably where these settings got started. Also, the beading – the tiny claws that hold the pave in place – gets worn down over time.
  • Got a ring with lots of small diamonds? Wear it  more carefully, and get it looked at every year to see if it needs repairs, especially deep cleaning or prong/beading reinforcement.

Gemstones That Last, Too

Here are my picks for durable daily ring stones. Like other minerals, gems get measured on the Mohs Scale of Hardness, and it is recommended that gemstones for daily wear in a ring are 8 or above on the Mohs scale. Often folks get very woo-woo when talking about the mystic symbolic treasured wonder of gemstones. I’ve done my best to link to actual information – scientific, legal, and gemologcial – rather than vendor claims.

  • Diamond – There’s a lot of diamond downers out there right now – so much so that the demand for diamonds is going down in Western countries. For durability, I cannot argue with 10 on the Moh’s scale of hardness. The alt-diamond approach is to reuse a family stone, choose an ethically mined diamond (Canada or Australia), or buy a vintage diamond.
  • Blue Sapphire – Blue sapphires are the blue version of the mineral corundum. For a sapphire where everyone from the miner to the cutter is fairly compensated, look for sapphires from Montana or Australia. Sri Lankan sapphires are also considered to be at fair trade levels of ethical, lots of detailed information here in the Sri Lanka Mines and Minerals Act 1992.
  • RubyRubies are corundum that is tinted within a specific range of red hues – not too purple, not too pink. Did you know that rubies from Burma/Myanmar are banned in the United States, and haven’t been sold by many gem retailers for years, due to Myanmar’s human rights violations? Ow. These sanctions will be lifted soon, but read this first. Go vintage or go for gems from Sri Lanka.
  • Pink or Peach  or Purple Sapphire – Speaking of those Sri Lanka gems! Pink and peach sapphires are increasingly popular. And purple sapphires delight those who, like Anne of Green Gables, wish that diamonds were actually purple.

Also worth considering:

  • Spinel – Like corundum, spinel comes in a ravishing range of colors, including ruby-alternative reds, cool blues, pinks, and even sparkling gray. Why yes, I do like spinel! Watch out for Burma sourced ones, though.
  • Tsavorite Garnet – For a gorgeous green stone that holds up to daily wear, I’d choose a tsavorite garnet over an emerald. I’d still set it carefully, though. And I’d read this piece about the death of the gem’s discoverer first, in a tangle of race and mining rights issues.
  • Tourmaline – If you want a natural big stone – a really huge rock – and you can wear with care (it tops out at Mohs 7.5) tourmaline is for you. They come in almost every color including hot neon-blue and watermelon (combined pink and green).
  • Quality Lab Gems – If you want a big durable stone that’s affordable and has no ethical issues, go for lab gems. A flawless five-carat ruby? It’s yours! You like emeralds? Get two lab emeralds in case one cracks! And many people who like the look of a scintillating white gem go for moissanite, diamond’s ethical lab twin. Several of my friends are delighted with their eye-catching lab gems.

Sentimental favorites that are too soft for daily-wear rings: opals, pearls, turquoise, pounamu (nephrite jade/serpentine).  Beryls are higher on the Mohs scale but unfortunately tend to be brittle – this includes emeralds, aquamarine, and morganite. Emeralds are a popular gemstone but there are many sad emerald ring stories like this one – after a few years of wear, her emerald center stone was pretty shot.

Some sturdy and accessible ring inspiration for you:

RingchoicesSapphire Tardis Police Box ringSpinel Asscher in recycled gold ring Ruby heart ring.

Ringchoices2Yellow sapphire ringTourmaline and platinum ring engravedOrange sapphire and METEORITE METAL!

You’d Think Men’s Rings Would Be Sturdier as a Rule, But No

Have you met a guy who is lukewarm on the ring thing? I haven’t – guys either hate rings or want them to be unique and fascinating. The latter, when choosing a ring for themselves, will go for rings that can be seen from outer space. Titanium rings, which are popular amongst men, are perfectly fine, but have suffered from an urban legend about being too strong/having to be cut off of fingers.

Sadly, men’s rings can have durability problems, too. Avoid tungsten rings, which are strong but brittle. What’s more, many tungsten rings are sold with designs that are often decals sealed with PVC. PVC!!! Why is it that women are supposed to be sticklers for the four C’s and 18k or platinum and men get fobbed off with plastic? For a darker ring that has technical interest, I recommend instead that perfectly fine titanium, damascus steel, and oxidized silver or gold.

Miscellaneous Points

You’re allowed to have more than one piece of jewelry. So don’t feel that you have to cram all your pent-up ring desires into one ring. Most of us have a whole other hand that can also wear rings.

I often find that the jewelers I want to send my friends to, or the ones with the coolest, most inspirational stuff, about 50% of the time have out-of-date web sites. They’re busy making great pieces and not overcharging for them, and getting word of mouth recommendations, so the web thing isn’t at the top of their priority list.

I’m not a melee/pave fan, but if you want a setting with lots of diamonds, get a hand-forged setting. It will cost more, but it will be sturdier and last longer.

Antique and vintage rings are hip right now. But be advised that many of these are delicate, or require some work to make them wearable in the modern day. My ring required enough work that getting it wearable for the 21st century cost as much as a modest ring in and of itself. Quite a lot can be done, too – prongs can be renewed, shanks and engraving can be restored, gems can be repolished, even a deep clean of a neglected ring can turn it into a stunner.

Antiques aside, there is nothing wrong with secondhand jewelry and some of it is good quality. It’s a great way to make the most of your budget.

When you want a new shiny thing for a loved one, a great time to commission jewelry is between June and September – the quiet period for jewelry sales. Larger jewelers often have sales during these months. Jewelers get busy with holiday commissions between November and February.

Cool Jewelers in NZ, and Some Gemstone Sources

Why are they cool? They’ll work with your own stones. They have a better than average selection of men’s rings. And you’re talking to the jewellers themselves, instead of hypertrained, pushy sales troops.

  • Bell Arte’ – One talented guy in…Te Horo, of all places.
  • Unio – A group of great people in Havelock North.
  • Berry’s – A great crew based in Wellington.
  • Tory & Ko – Another Wellington team.
  • Also, Artifact for titanium and damascus rings in NZ.

All these jewelers have gems in stock, along with finished jewelry. If you want to go the extra mile and pick out non-diamond stones yourself, check out these online vendors. There are many gemcutters out there – I have chosen these because they combine gorgeous gems with NZ friendly shipping options.

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Dress Well While Saving The World: The Power of Clothing Swaps

A glimpse into the treasure trove of Aeon Dressmaking and Vintage on Cuba Street.

As we become more aware of fast fashion and environmental issues, we often try to avoid the mall and mass-produced new clothes. To extend the life of existing clothes and to save money, clothing swaps are one option.

Most clothing swaps are private, organized by groups of friends. But Aeon Dressmaking in Wellington is hosting a mega-clothing-swap on March 15th, with a fashion show. It’s going to be fun, accessible, and full of wonderful items. Aeon Dressmaking is loved in the Wellington burlesque scene for their costume tailoring and well-chosen vintage, and their alternative formalwear is gaining a following, too. Bring in your fabric that’s just sitting there and see what wonders they will create.

With this event coming up, how about some Clothing Swap Ettiquette? 

My personal clothing swap recommendations are, for swap organizers: invite people who don’t already know each other; extend invitations to acquaintances; don’t over-invite for your space; have clear zones for different sizes of clothing and for shoes/accessories; and have a plan for donating leftover clothes.

If you’re attending a swap, wash your clothes before you bring them – closet funk is NOBODY’S friend in a room full of used clothes. Dress to try on garments comfortably – a base layer of leggings/camisole can protect the modest. You can ask for second dibs on a garment in someone’s hands, but only once, and be gracious about it. If somebody brings a particularly striking or helpful garment that you get, and you know who donated it, it’s nice to thank that particular person.

For me, something that always happens at a clothing swap is that I find a ravishing garment that…may or may not fit. Here’s a great, great, great pair of posts on how womens’ garments ought to fit and on alterations. Also, how to alter the bust or overall seamline of an existing garment that’s too small.  Basically, when it’s too small, you can enlarge it with a gusset. Warning: extra fabric required.

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Subculture Clothes Versus Workaday Wardrobe

Alice Marks of the Twin Cities

A lovely goth par excellence, getting ready for a night out. Photo courtesy John Morson.

Lots of my friends have two separate wardrobes. There’s the clothes they wear every day – to work, to school, to the supermarket. And then there’s the clothes they wear when they’re participating in subculture activities – dance evenings and productions, goth club nights, medieval or retro immersion weekends, live role-playing games, science-fiction and steampunk conventions. So this post strings together some thoughts and inspiration on the topic.

It’s challenging to afford two wardrobes. Subculture clothing sellers often charge a premium because they are custom-making, or dealing with small manufacturing runs. And don’t we WANT to support our subculture vendors?  Often, in New Zealand, we make the clothes ourselves. Even this isn’t a cost-saver if your houppelande requires 7 meters of fine wool or velvet – the result is that you’re spending both money AND time.

When you are investing in a subculture look, it’s easy to get heedless about workaday clothes. It’s hard for me to get psyched about a new work blouse when I am tempted by sequined burlesque splendor, or the ever-increasing array of Ravishing Retro Dresses.

I hit up a toy from the $2 shop with gold spray paint for the ray gun

Thrifted steampunk, Exhibit A. Thanks again, Digitalpix!

For steampunk and retro, thrifting can come to the rescue. It can help if you’re goth. Because people are wonderful, I and others often get given subculture-relevant items; I am the fortunate recipient of feathered bags, lingerie, flowered hair clips, and lengths of unusual fabric.

Can you combine the two? Yes. You’ll care more about your clothes and appearance. And you’ll just have more fun. One time, a contractor paused in the hallway, scrutinized my cats’ eye glasses, leopard cardigan, and full red lips, and said, “You’re one of those retro girls, aren’t you?” It turned out that we knew people in common, and we were friends for the duration of the contract.

Here’s some good reading on this subject:

Another useful concept to get the most out of both a subculture wardrobe and a workaday wardobe is that of the wardrobe capsule – a group of garments designed to mix and match, so that you get many looks out of relatively few garments. This is a great way to get the most out of a small workaday wardrobe, and to extend the return on stunning subculture items, such as a steampunk jacket or a pin-up dress. Wardrobe capsules are having a moment in blogland, thanks to Polyvore‘s image collages. Some quality inspiration is at two of my style favorites, Wardrobe Oxygen and Inside Out Style.

Then there’s storage space. I’ve seen subculture wardrobes overflow from closet space and trunks to take over entire rooms. I’m incredibly lucky to have two closets that I can use – one is contemporary, and one is vintage/costume. Someday I’ll combine households with a special someone and the jig will be up. In the meantime, hats, wigs, and shoes are still especially difficult to store.

Small but perfectly formed

My vintage/costume closet. Note the clothes steamer beside the closet.

Subculture-signifier hair remains polarizing. In Wellington, New Zealand, vivid tints and streaks of candy colors or silver/white, are surprisingly OK for professionals. Retro hair is also OK… up to a point. (I’d feel better making strong statements about this if I knew retro-coiffed doctors or CEOs outside of the Louise Brooks bob zone.) Simply moving up to Auckland is enough to turn vivid hair into a vivid work problem, and this discussion of pink hair for a scientist discusses the contrast between Boston and London style. These are usually all incorporated into shorter hair styles, and there’s often bias against very long hair for women, and longer hair for men. A full head of candy-neon hair has become a new marker of luxury, indicating that you don’t have to work, or you’re Free of the Man – either way, nothing is stopping you.

I’ve enjoyed the drama and fun of retro and cosplay clothing since I was a teenager. For me part of maturing has been deciding that I deserve to have fun with all my clothes, both workaday/mundane ones and subculture/cosplay ones.


Cosplaying as an elf ten years ago.


YouShop International Mail Forwarding Review

Herewith, my mail forwarding experience with YouShop, New Zealand Post’s US-based mail forwarding service. As an online shopper, I was interested to see what this was like – especially when packaging I had no control over impacted my shipping costs. And maybe you will be, too.

What Is YouShop, Again? New Zealand Post, in response to Kiwis’ desire for unlimited online shopping, has set up a mail forwarding service based in Portland, Oregon. You send a USA-acquired purchase that doesn’t ship overseas to the YouShop location in Oregon. The NZ Post employee there then weighs it, and tells you how much to pay for forwarding. Once you’ve paid online, NZ Post sends it to you in New Zealand, for a price. Note that NZ Post never opens the package, and does not consolidate multiple packages, most likely to reduce their liability.

The Test: In the post-Christmas online sales, I ordered two pairs of jeans from new-to-me brands, from two different online retailers. They were separately forwarded by YouShop. I had amazingly different experiences for the two different packages.

Item 1: A pair of NYDJ jeans from On sale, $34 US; free Super Saver shipping from

Have you ever seen anything so enthralling in your life??

Jeans #1 in their simple envelope, with a full-sized bottle of nail polish for scale.

  • Packaging: Slim minimum-weight plastic bag, shown above.
  • YouShop forwarding charge: $22.
  • Experience: From ordering jeans to admiring my butt in the mirror – 14 days exactly, over the holiday period, no less. I received *four* status emails: one saying that YouShop had received my package, one saying the package had been sent to New Zealand, one saying it had arrived in New Zealand, and one saying it had been delivered.
  • Comparable jeans purchase in New Zealand: $235 minimum. Definitely one of those NZ markup items. “Aren’t those jeans expensive??” a co-worker asked. US site prices are $140 US to $77 US, depending.
  • Overall: WIN. Even with the YouShop forwarding cost, I anticipate an excellent return on investment for this garment – transeasonal, well-made, and flexible. Also, garment fits perfectly – deliciously, even – and is strikingly attractive. And unique. And…well, this is what mail forwarding is for.

Item 2: A pair of raspberry-hued jeans from Ann Taylor Loft. On sale, $17.99 US, with $7.95 shipping. I’ve always loved wearing burgundy/berry tones, so for me the color trend is a chance to stock up on a shade.


Massive packaging difference with Jeans #2 – note that the for-scale nail polish is dwarfed.

  • Packaging: A modest shoebox-sized box, shown above.
  • YouShop Forwarding Charge: $36.00. WHAAAA?
  • Experience: Frankly, I was so thrown by the different shipping fee, it took me a week to click “Complete Order.” I did have the package in five days – they left it on my home doorstep. Again, I received progress emails – which was good because it let me know to look for the package.
  • Comparable jeans purchase in New Zealand: Depends on quality. Cheapies available from $49.00 at Glassons, $59.00 at JeansWest or Just Jeans. I’d have to alter the length, though.
  • Overall: I feel… punished by this one. How am I supposed to know if my items will be in featherweight ecopackaging, or if they’ll be mummified in a box? Why do I have to pay $14 more for the privilege of a cardboard box and a piece of paper packaging? I would have been OK with $5 – $7 more. Adding to my grousing, the jeans had fit issues (too large, when does that happen??). After washing them in ultra-hot water and running them through the dryer, they’re at the tailor.
Naked jeans!!!!

The two pairs of jeans, free of all packaging and folded once at the knee, beside each other with the for-scale nail polish. The NYDJ jeans are heavier.

Final YouShop Verdict

Recommended, with “caveat emptor” in place. The timing is reliable, but variability in packaging makes using YouShop shipping cost roulette. In future I will use YouShop for otherwise elusive must-have items – wardrobe foundation pieces, in petite sizing, items with which I fall sickeningly in love, shoes and boots. Or for small light parcels such as makeup, electronics components, specialist hardware, or lingerie.

You Shop ties into the psychology of online shopping by extending the shopping experience. The status emails each provide a little positive mental ping, echoing the mild endorphin rush of shopping itself. But not enough to overcome the anxiety of finding out if a package is light or heavy by their standards.

Bear in mind that, if the option is at all available, direct international shipping may work out to be about the same or cheaper.

Note that this is a small car, just for the driver herself
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Your Mileage May Vary: Women, Cars, Wellington

In one of those life-phase convergences, it seems like I and half my friends are suddenly updating our vehicles. Hence, a post about driving and buying cars while female in Wellington, New Zealand.

Note that this is a small car, just for the driver herself

Aspirational images of fashionable women with cars, 90 years ago and today; click to read the modern driver, Affi’s, take on her car.

Wellington region driving requires vehicular oomph and endurance. We drive and park on steep, winding hill roads, wrangle a storm-swept stretch of highway across Wellington Harbour, and accelerate on other highways that ascend/descend at 45-degree angles. I needed a reliable gas sipper that could take it – my sweet spot was a car with an engine between 1.5 and 1.8 liters. And I wanted to enjoy the 20th-century pleasure of driving while it’s still accessible. You know, while we still have petroleum and the resources to maintain cars.

The moniker of “girl car” is often slapped, like a cartoon character’s feminizing ribbon bow, on visually appealing, fuel-efficient, reliable vehicles. I am grumpy that “girl car” is an insult to the point that I myself feel awkward handling the term – even though I was shopping for a quintessential girl car.  “Girl car” stigma followed me around the car lots. During my month-long car hunt, if I went by myself, salesmen (always men) went deaf and failed to hear my engine requirements.

Despite this, time to look around and reacquaint myself with cars today was very useful, both seeing them in person and checking online reviews. You can find long-term driving online reviews for most cars from 2004 onwards, and these are more meaningful than one-offs. Search for “long term” and “road tests”.  In print, even though its authorial voice is “Boys’ Town Gazette,” I enjoyed the irreverent, informative magazine Top Gear NZ, which has a summary of all the new cars on the market here. Talking with my friends also helped: I had an epic 50-comment social media conversation that was 100% women. “Are you going to get heated seats? A reversing camera? Keyless starting? iPod stereo? A hybrid?” Stymied on hybrids because I don’t have anywhere to plug one in, here’s what I looked at, and what I thought.

  • Hondas – The compact Fit/Jazz is supposed to be good, and I liked it. However, used ones with the 1.5 liter engine carried a premium price, and the ones I did find outside of Honda itself seemed tired after the rigors of Wellington driving. The 1.5 liter Fit Aria sedan finds its way here as an import and, on a test drive, was perfectly adequate, if boxy going around corners. It’s popular in Asia and is worth a look if you are on a budget and need space and security rather than an exciting drive – lots of them get imported into Auckland. Mid-2000s Civics were on the stodgy side – the hatchbacks would make great family cars, or cars for surfers, but I didn’t need that much room. Civics after 2009 looked appealing, but weren’t in my budget.
  • Toyotas – Having had the Vitz/Yaris and the Corolla recommended multiple times, I tried these, too. A friend’s Vitz has survived an incredible amount of driving throughout New Zealand. 1.5 to 1.8 liter ones were punchy, especially the sports versions. Some of these were keyless, a usability change on a par from changing from an older mobile phone to a smartphone.
  • Volkswagen – The boxy but handsome Volkswagen Polo is a favorite with many, and suits Wellington’s driving conditions well, if you can afford the service. I heard the caveat often, “If you can’t afford a new European car, you can’t afford a used one,” because of the service costs.
  • Mazdas/Fords – Mazdas and Fords, despite massive branding differences, are vehicular cousins today, manufactured in close association. Again, it’s challenging to find used ones with engines between 1.5 and 2 liters used in Wellington, because they get bought quickly, with a used-car premium. The Ford Fiesta is similar to the Mazda 2; the Mazda 3 has many fans among my friends; the Ford Focus comes across as a good solid option.
  • Based on my requirements, I should have looked at Nissans, but none captured my attention. They seem like good cars for a good price. -shrugs- I also neglected Kias (just not that many of them) and the Suzuki Swift (very few 1.5 liters in my price range, never quite satisfied with the interiors I saw.)
  • Lemons to avoid are often the “cute cars” of five to ten years ago. I took a peek at some of these, read the online comments, and said “Never mind.” These included: used new-generation Mini Coopers (expensive! CRAZY dashboards), used 2000’s VW Bugs (low luggage space, visibility issues for drivers, and body paint problems in the NZ climate), used Mercedes A-class compacts (don’t get me started).

Being short influenced my car buying experience to a surprising degree. Bringing somebody taller along was a useful way to check that a vehicle that was fine for me was also passable for my passengers. Car salesmen tend to be tall, and car negotiations often begin while everyone is standing up, emphasizing the height difference. (The one woman I found employed at a car place was also tall!) An affable, polite tall salesman talking to me is like a friendly giant – I remain somewhat wary. A tall salesman who decides to play hardball or get aggressive comes across as a brute pretty quickly. (One of these reminded me of Swelter from Gormenghast; another evoked a chilly, dead-eyed H.P. Lovecraft villain.) While these encounters were fascinating, I don’t give brutes my money. The one short salesman I ran across cleverly neutralized his height – and mine – by sitting beside me in cars. Tall salesmen who want shorter customers to feel respected should do this more. By the end of my car search I was deploying fiercely confident body language and flinging myself into equalizing chairs whenever possible.

My top three picks for dealers in the Wellington region are as follows:

  • Upper Hutt Car Sales – This is where I bought my car, a Mazda2. Worth the trip: their web site lists incoming vehicles as well as cars available on site. Lots of Toyotas, Mazdas, and Nissans. The sales staff are low-pressure and genuinely helpful. I’d send my sister here if I had a sister.
  • Turner’s – A large, also low-pressure used car sales place/auctioneer, with a good reputation overall. Largest price range of these three recommendations, from $2000 to premium secondhand.
  • Honda Cars Wellington – Trustworthy cars sold by mannerly staff. I showed up one day to test drive in post-dance-event clothes (showgirl makeup, multiple flower hair clips) and was treated as an intelligent car buyer. Also, note their very good finance interest rate.

Even if you aren’t car shopping right now, here’s some excellent reading about women and/or cars:

  • The Rise of the Flapper – “The rise of the automobile was another factor in the rise of flapper culture. Cars meant a woman could come and go as she pleased, travel to speakeasys and other entertainment venues, and use the large vehicles of the day for heavy petting or even sex.”
  • Cellomom on Cars – Dry, witty, and environmentally minded, this car reviewer looks at both fuel usage and whether a vehicle can fit her three children and a cello inside it.
  • Mis-managed marketing to women – Focusing on the new Honda Fit She, a vehicular embarrassment supreme. “If you just say, ‘Here’s a pink phone for women, or a pink shirt for women,’ women will shoot you in the face.”
  • J.G. Ballard on Cars – In this piece, written in 1971, J.G. Ballard, the author of Crash, foretells the demise of the steering wheel: self-driving cars are becoming legal today.
  • It doesn’t get any more staggering than this history of Hitler and the VW Bug here, complete with photos of Hitler caressing a model of a VW Bug. “Punchbuggy” will never be the same.
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World of Wearable Arts I: The Circus Has Come To Town, Bringing Shoes

This week and next week, The World of Wearable Arts show is happening in Wellington. Imagine the changeling child of Cirque du Soleil and the costume collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, presented as an absorbing son et lumiere spectacle. That’s WOW for you.

What happens when a multiweek styelstravaganza comes to a medium-sized city? Bringing hordes of style-conscious visitors who have the money to attend the not-inexpensive event, and who, with the holidays several months away, are spending their remaining money on themselves? It’s like a second retailer Christmas, and it’s entertaining for those of us who live here.

Deliciously retro department store Kirkcaldie and Stains’ has its staff on a high-alert, low-leave schedule, and its windows are adorned with past WOW entry costumes. Boutiques and stores are expanding their evening and weekend hours, to be rewarded by sales from the crowds going to the event. Capital Books, open late, said that the WOW crowds were already good to them, snapping up sewing and fashion tomes.

Shoe designer Kathryn Wilson even saw fit to inaugurate her spring pop-up store, the SHOEBOX, during WOW week. A gleaming crystalline boutique has suddenly appeared twenty meters from the arena where World of Wearable Arts takes place, brilliantly lit as a spaceship:

Inside the glittering SHOEBOXInside, along with the bon-bons and soignee vendors, are shoes that define New Zealand luxury; buttery leathers, subtle colors, heels that you can walk in as you transfer your weekend bag to the seaside bach.

I'll take that one, that one, and that one

METALLIC BROGUES. I don't even like flats and I'm excited

The shoes’ construction is, well, those who like Fluevogs and Chie Mihara won’t be disappointed. They also pass the “but are they COMFORTABLE??” test. Kathryn Wilson has two lines – the Miss Wilson line is less expensive – and you can also check out the sale section of their web site. I enjoyed the novelty of cruising shoes after dark by the waterfront, myself.

Pretty much all of these look wearable in real life

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Foxy Friday: Burlesque and Politics

Another opening of another show…go to Miss La Belle to book your tickets! This is a fun cabaret-style evening in a great venue. Friday night is good if you’re a little shy, and Saturday is definitely the party night.

Come get the burlesque oo la la at spring's Frolic Lounge!

Will you look at that line up? Exceptional!!

Whether we like it or not, clothes are important: there has been passionate analysis of Michele Obama’s dress at the Democratic National Convention. More passionate analysis, comparing Obama to Romney. Republican women get compared to each other: the one on a lower budget is considered to have “done it right”.

Wellingtonians, interestingly, do not like politics mixed with their burlesque. At all. Is it because government is, for so many of us, our bread and butter? Perhaps this denial is required to have saucy nightlife in what is also a politically fuelled capital city.